Last week the influential technology blog TechCrunch hosted its two-day annual conference, TechCrunch40, at which forty "of the hottest new startups from around the world" unveiled their products. I didn't attend (if you want an insider's view, Sylvia Paull offers a slightly jaundiced one), but I did take some time to consider the hot companies' names. Here are my short takes on five of the forty.
8020 Publishing, in San Francisco, "brings together the best of the web and print." Numbers are showing up in company names in some interesting variations (see, for example, my post on 23andMe), and this one strikes me as especially smart. In a company blog post notable for its thoughtful tone, founder Derek Powazek explains that "8020" comes from the "80/20 rule," also known as the Pareto Principle, which postulates that 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the effort. "We chose to name our company after this magic ratio," Powazek writes, "because we wanted to embrace the way communities form online. In our experience, to maintain a healthy online community, you need to maintain another 80/20 split: 80% readers (the silent majority in any community, sometimes called lurkers), and 20% writers (the vocal minority, the people who power the conversation)." A sophisticated logo underscores the intelligence of the name.
Cake Financial, also in San Francisco, is "a free online service that makes it easy to follow the portfolios and the real-time trades of your family and friends as well as top-performing members within the Cake community." The juxtaposition of "Cake" and "Financial" is surprising, and that's the point: The founders are positioning the company as an alternative to conventional financial services. Yet the name isn't frivolous. "Cake" is a strong, simple word with multiple associations--from the delights of birthday cake to "have your cake and eat it too" to "icing on the cake." (OK, it's also in "Let them eat cake," which may not be as bad as it seems.) Cake Financial gently pushes the metaphor in its slice-of-cake logo--I like the way it challenges the "pie" chart cliché--and in a section of the website titled "Why Cake Is Good for You."
Spottt has a cute doggie mascot and, yes, three T's, although its logo makes the name look more like "SpotIt." The business, which hasn't yet launched officially, will provide free link exchanges, which explains the provisional tagline: "You Pet My Back, I'll Pet Yours." For my money, the unnatural spelling screams of domain desperation: I'll bet the founders tried for Spott.com, which is parked and probably has a high asking price. If three consonants are the start of a trend, I hope it's a short-lived one.
Viewdle, based in New York, Kiev, and London, is "a facial-recognition powered digital media platform for indexing, searching and monetizing video assets." So there's a reason for "view" in the name. But there's no excuse for a name that everyone is going to hear as "Futile."
Xobni, another San Francisco startup, is "inbox" spelled backward. The founders explain on the About page: "We started Xobni because we realized there was an amazing opportunity to leverage our abilities in machine learning and statistical modeling to 'take back' the email inbox for our users." OK, now I get it. But I still can't pronounce it--not even with the little long-vowel-sound bar over the "o" in the logo. Zohbnih? Ex-oh-b'nee? Fuhgeddaboutit. Some words just don't swing both ways. (But at least one prominent venture capitalist thinks the Xobni service is the bomb.)